Conservator Spotlight – Works on Paper

Works on Paper Conservation Studio

Works on paper globe conservation projectWorks on Paper was established when it’s founder, Carolyn Frisa, relocated to Vermont from Boston in 2008.  She works with cultural institutions, art galleries, framers, dealers in fine art and antiques, private individuals, corporate clients, and insurance companies assessing, restoring and preserving various paper-based artifacts.

A wide range of artistic and historic works on paper fill the studio’s portfolio of conserved artifacts. Some of the artifacts Carolyn worked on are not your conventional flat paper documents or artwork. We were most impressed with the transformation of a badly damaged Smith’s Terrestrial Globe circa 1877, which was restored to it’s original glory.
Carolyn was kind enough to answer some questions for us:

How long have you been in preservation business?
I am entering my thirteenth year as a practicing paper conservator since receiving a master’s degree in paper conservation in 2000. I started my private practice, Works on Paper, in 2008, and have been a Professional Associate of the American Institute of Conservation (AIC) since 2007.

What is your professional background. Have you always been a conservator?
I had the rare and very fortunate experience of being introduced to conservation while still in middle school. I was immediately drawn to the work of conservators, and concentrated in fine art while in high school. I received an undergraduate degree in the history of art from Bryn Mawr College and entered a graduate program in paper conservation at Camberwell College in London the same year. After receiving my master’s degree, I worked as a paper conservator at Tate Britain before returning to the States. After moving to Boston, I began working at the Northeast Document Conservation Center as a Kress Fellow Paper Conservator and stayed with them for the next six years. I relocated to southern Vermont in 2008 and started my own private practice paper conservation studio, Works on Paper, attaining one of my primary goals set while in graduate school.

What is your conservation specialty?
As a paper conservator, I specialize in the treatment of many types of paper-based objects. These include works of art on paper such as watercolors, prints, pastels and posters, as well as archival materials such as maps, letters, documents, architectural drawings and diplomas. One of my favorite specialties is the conservation of historic wallpaper and I typically work on several large-scale wallpaper projects each year. I also work on three-dimensional objects such as globes, fans, and hat and band boxes. This variety of types of objects is one of the primary aspects that initially drew me to paper conservation as a specialty while applying to graduate programs. It definitely keeps thing interesting in my studio and I always look forward to working on the different projects I typically have scheduled for each week.

Can you name one or two of the most memorable artifacts you’ve worked on?
One of the favorite projects I worked on while at NEDCC was the conservation of the Meriwether Lewis Collection, a large collection of letters and documents written to or from Meriwether Lewis as well as other members of the Corps of Discovery while on the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Playing a crucial roll in the preservation of such an important part of our country’s history was one of the most professionally satisfying achievements of my career thus far.
I am currently working on a much smaller scale project for the Danby-Mount Tabor Historical Society (VT) that involves the conservation treatment of a ledger kept by a local blacksmith from 1850 – 1890. This ledger is especially important to the town’s history because it was one of the very few items that were salvaged after the museum’s building was washed into the river and destroyed as a result of Tropical Storm Irene. This ledger, along with several smaller ones and an artifact known as the “witch’s hat”, were retrieved downstream in the weeks following the storm.

Conservation treatment of blacksmith's ledger
Conservation treatment of blacksmith's ledger. Images courtesy of Carolyn Frisa. Click to see in full size in our Gallery.

What would be the hardest project?
The most challenging project I have worked on in my career so far was the conservation of the “Wall of Prayer”, the temporary construction fence outside of Bellevue Hospital covered with missing persons posters and letters of support following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Not only was this the most emotionally charged project I have ever worked on, it also presented a whole host of new conservation treatment challenges.

Bamboo Handle Hake BrushWhat are your favorite archival tools?
My favorite archival tools include various sized metal and Teflon spatulas, tweezers, and Japanese brushes such as the Hake Brush and Kuroge-Tsukemawashi Joining Brush. Other indispensable materials, of course, include Wheat Starch paste and a variety of Japanese Kozo Papers.
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Location
: Bellows Falls, VT
Online
: worksonpaperconservation.com Blog: Pulp Fixin’
Specialty
: Conserving a wide range of artistic and historic works on paper

Fragile Balance

Three standard box sizes and some examples of glass negatives with their four-flap enclosures open.

We came across an article in AuthentiCity, The City of Vancouver Archives Blog, describing a recent project completed by archive’s volunteers. The project consisted of cataloging and creating archivally safe housing for a large (over 8000!) collection of glass negative in various sizes. Not an easy task!

First, each negative was placed in a convenient 4-flap acid-free paper envelope, which was marked on the spine for easy browsing. Next step was re-housing the negatives in archival boxes which came in standard sizes, but some needed to be modified (by adding foam to the bottom and/or by adding corrugated board dividers) to accommodate size variations. The light-weight sturdy corrugated dividers within the box assure snug fit and immobility of the negatives which now uniformly stand on their side and also add air circulation around small groupings of negatives. Each box was also labeled on the front, so it can be easily spotted and identified while standing on the shelf among others.

Glass negatives stored neatly in their special modified box. Photo by Cindy McLellan.
Glass negatives stored neatly in their special modified box. Photo by Cindy McLellan.

This seemingly complex but necessary storage process provides maximum protection from the elements:
• paper envelopes protect from dust and fingerprints during handling
• board and foam provide cushioning and air circulation
• archival grade specialty boxes shield from dirt, dust, light and moisture while holding negatives upright and supported on all sides

Cudos to Vancouver Archives and their dedicated volunteers for tackling such large but important project and preserving fragile treasures, such as these Glass Negatives so they would continue providing priceless historical information to future generations!

Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month is celebrated during March in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, corresponding with International Women’s Day on March 8.

Throughout this month, many major archival institutions in the US (including the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Park Service, and Smithsonian Institution) join together in paying tribute to the generations of women and their invaluable contributions to American History, Science, Politics and many other aspects of life.

Our friends at Museum Textile Services featured a conservation project they just completed for The Wheaton College’s Permanent Collection that is directly related to one of women’s critical roles in American history. You can read this fascinating series of blog posts (parts 1, 2 and 3) describing preservation efforts on a large collection of artifacts from the American Women’s Voluntary Services (AWVS), the largest American women’s service organization in the United States during the World War II. MTS staff were entrusted by Wheaton College with a large collection of WWII uniforms and accessories, as well as tiniest clothing details such as spare buttons and badges. Each garment/accessory was assessed individually and prescribed various conservation/cleaning treatments administered to them depending on the material, condition and individual qualities of the item. In the end, all were surrounded by (and/or stuffed with) acid-free tissue and placed in archival textile boxes for safe storage.

Overall, it was a modest but precise treatment for these prized pieces of history, making them safe for study and display. We sincerely thank Museum Textile Services for employing our archival quality products throughout this important project.

Mummy, dear…

Photo from the "in the Artifact Lab" blog by The Penn Museum Conservators.
The Penn Museum, which boasts one of the largest collections of Egyptian artifacts in the US, is giving the general public a chance to get uncommonly close and almost personal with some of them. In an effort to introduce visitors to the behind-the-scenes work of conservators, Penn created a workspace, surrounded by glass walls, in which the preservation processes can be observed. Moreover, Artifact Lab offers visitors a chance to speak with a conservator twice a day (Tuesday-Friday 11:15am and 2:00pm, Saturday-Sunday 1:00pm and 3:30pm). Apparently, the most common question people ask: “Is that a real mummy?”
Museum patrons can watch staff members use microscopes, brushes and other tools while they study and preserve the precious artifacts. Large screens allow visitors to admire the same magnified views as the professionals behind the glass wall. And if for some reason you can’t make a trip to Philadelphia, you can still follow the Lab’s wonderful blog, which features interesting facts about the artifacts, preservation tips (both preventive and restorative), tools and equipment used during conservation treatments and much, much more…

How to Dress a Garment

wistariahurst museum holyoke maWistariahurst is a grand yet charming mansion of the prominent silk manufacturer, William Skinner and his family. The house was built in 1874 and owned continually by the Skinner family until in 1959, when the heirs donated Wistariahurst to the City of Holyoke for cultural and educational purposes. Now it is a beautifully maintained museum, dedicated to the preservation of the local history and it’s artifacts. It houses extensive collections of decorative arts; paintings and prints, textiles and manuscripts of family and local papers.

wistariahurst archival textile boxes university productsBut what the public doesn’t normally see would be a real treat for the archival enthusiast’s eye. The back rooms are filled with neat rows of archivally safe boxes (for the most part – manufactured right here, next door, at the University Products plant in Holyoke, MA) in different sizes and configurations. From huge textile boxes to convenient document cases, all meticulously and creatively labeled. The large textile collection is carefully preserved with convenient and versatile coverings, designed and produced by devoted museum volunteer Gloria Carver. We are very grateful to her for the delightful story she wrote for us:

I had been a Wistariahurst volunteer for a number of years before Penni Martorell began working on housing the museum’s textile collection in the new Carriage House at Wistariahurst.  Many of their costumes were stored in boxes, but quite a few were left on hangers and needed to have some sort of covering to keep away the inevitable layer of dust.  Knowing my interest in textiles, Penni asked if I’d like to research the best method to cover this portion of the collection. It wasn’t long before I found a pattern for a garment cover on a government site of archival textile storage. I love to sew and I was ready to go to work!

What could be easier than to whip up a basic cover like a cleaner’s plastic bag only in cotton? Armed with the drawing of the pattern, I made a full-sized pattern and began waiting for sales of muslin at the local fabric store.  For the first group of covers, the museum purchased two bolts of fabric and I began sewing my contribution to Wistariahurst.  We realized that the covers would have to have easy access to the costume, which meant one side would be open and the other closed.  This also meant that we needed to have some kind of inexpensive closure for this open side.  Finally I would be able to put my horde of white bias tape to good use!  The last piece of work was to adhere a plastic backed pocket/label on the left front and then sew this label on to ensure its staying power.  Inside the clear pocket goes a photo of the costume inside the garment bag.  Now all it takes is a quick look at the photo to find a desired costume, which is securely protected from dust and soil.  I estimate that it takes about three hours to make one cover.

These first twenty or so came out so well that I volunteered to make another batch.  The only difference was that I had run out of white bias tape for the ties and had to resort to using my collection of various colors!  Now when you look at the row of formal looking white covered garments in the textile archives, you’ll see a bright assortment of pink, blue, yellow, green, etc. colored ties to spark up the the proper row of costumes waiting for another special exhibit.

Story by Gloria Carver, Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke, MA

Conservation Photo Feature – Vega Papers Processing at Wistariahurst Museum

Vega Papers Processing (Wistaria Hurst)
Project archivist Emily Toder holding one of the newly labeled boxes on the last day of processing (photo courtesy of Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke, MA)

Last winter, Wistariahurst Museum of Holyoke, Mass, was awarded a Mass Humanities grant to process the papers of Holyoke activist and community organizer Carlos A. Vega.  As the collection arrived in plastic bins, binders, and all sorts of acid-full paper cartons and boxes, one of the first stages of the project was to identify and acquire the archival supplies needed to suit the large task of rehousing and properly accommodating the various sizes and formats of the collection’s different materials.  Its administrative records, clippings, photographs, posters, plaques, memorabilia, a diverse assortment of buttons, and one pez dispenser turned out to span 43 boxes (24.5 linear feet) of University Products’ 60 pt. buffered acid-free document containers, corrugated bulk storage cartons, and photos boxes. The collection demonstrating Vega’s tireless commitment to social justice, and documenting myriad facets of the Latino experience this culturally unique area of Western Massachusetts, is now open for research at the Museum’s Carriage House Archives.

Wistariahurst Museum is dedicated to preserving Holyoke’s history and inspiring an appreciation of history and culture through educational programs, exhibits and special events.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Wistariahurst is the former home of William Skinner, a prominent silk manufacturer.

 

Conservation Photo Feature – Recent conservation project at the San Diego Museum of Man

sandiegomuseum2
Removing mold from a human mummy at the San Diego Museum of Man

Unfortunately, the chiller in our HVAC system broke down, resulting in humidity increases in some of our exhibit galleries. As a result, mold began to appear on one of our naturally preserved human mummies. We removed the mummy from the gallery, and kept it sealed in an airtight storage cabinet with dessicant in order to dry out the mold. We then vacuumed the mold off of the mummy. Our chiller has since been replaced, and the mummy is back on display in the gallery, and it is doing fine!

Photo and story courtesy of San Diego Museum of Man (SDMoM), the only anthropology and archaeology museum in San Diego County. SDMoM is located in Balboa Park in the historic 1915 California Building with its iconic California Tower. SDMoM has outstanding cultural (ethnographic) collections and renowned physical anthropology collections. It features five permanent exhibitions, including Ancient Egypt; Kumeyaay: Native Californians; Footsteps Through Time: Four Million Years of Human Evolution; Maya: Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth; and Discover Egypt. SDMoM also offers changing special exhibits featuring artifacts from it’s own collections and from around the world.

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